|Both of my younger sisters had babies while I was on the road. Before I get wound up on Australia, let me take this opportunity to wish my new niece Zoe and my new nephew Obadiah (Bud) to the world.|
Australia is a place I've wanted to visit for quite a while, but it was never at the very top of my list. I originally added it to the trip mainly because it was summer when I wanted to start biking last November (It's in the Southern Hemisphere, remember). I added it before Vietnam to give me a chance to shake the bugs out of my touring system in an English speaking country where the weather was amenable. I planned to ride from Brisbane to Melbourne. At the last minute, I added a visit to my daughter Noelle in France before Vietnam instead. By then, I'd read up on Australia and really wanted to ride there, so I kept it in the itinerary but after Vietnam which moved it from summer to late fall, but still a workable season.
Ironically, this change in itinerary plus an extension of my stay Saigon for an extra six weeks changed the trip so I was now coming here in the middle of winter, when I'd specifically added it because it was summer. I was getting worried about that until I talked to an Ozzie bloke in the hotel in Saigon. He said "No worries mate, you're just going the wrong way. Go North and your problems are over". It turns out that the winter is the ideal time to visit Northern Australia, so I decided to go north instead of south. In the Southern Hemisphere, north takes you towards the equator, so that's like going south in the Northern Hemisphere. It's cold and miserable in southern Australia where I was planning to ride originally, but in northern Australia it's sunny and beautiful. Naturally, such a complete reversal of direction required extensive planning, so after careful research, I came up with this detailed plan:
You can learn some facts about Australia from Lonely Planet, CIA FactBook, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia.com or Encarta. Australia is a very big, but very sparsely populated country. Australia is the smallest of the continents, but the only country to take up an entire continent. It's about 80% of the size of the U.S. or roughly the same size as the continental U.S. both in area and in overall dimensions. It's the sixth largest country in the world. It's population is 6% of the U.S. population, giving it a population density about 10% of the U.S. In fact, it's population is about 2/3 of California's, and it's even less than the single city of Cairo. Most of the population is concentrated on the east coast, so there are pockets of habitation where the population density approaches that of some areas of the U.S., and huge masses of land where the population is measured in snakes and lizards.
Australia is split up into six states. Each state is roughly equivalent to an American state, but generally bigger. I started out in Queensland (QLD), and headed north with the possibility of going east into the Northern Territory (NT). The vast majority of the population lives in the states of New South Wales (NSW) which includes Sydney and Victoria. A pretty high percentage of the population lives in just three cities: Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. I started in Brisbane and planned to end up in Sydney at the end of the trip and leave from there.
Currency here is the Australian Dollar (AUD). One Australian Dollar is worth roughly half of a USD, so conversion here is dirt simple. The Australian economy is in a spot of difficulties right now (for no apparent reason I can see), so the exchange rate works very well for Americans traveling here. Everything here is very reasonably priced. Surprisingly enough, it's nearly as inexpensive to travel here as it is in Vietnam for Americans. I generally stay in mid-range hotels, which tend to cost about 30 USD per night. The same hotels in Vietnam are 25-30 USD. Airfare to Australia is probably going to be cheaper than to Vietnam, and certainly easier. Meals tend to be less than eating American food in Vietnam, but more than eating Vietnamese food. All in all, the difference isn't as much as one would expect.
My first couple of days in Australia were a bit of a surprise for me. Read all the way through this section before you react. You'll find it interesting.
Upon arrival in Brisbane, I hated it. I was considering bailing on Australia altogether and moving on. I didn't because, I knew that the feeling was irrational and it would go away, but I didn't really understand why I felt that way. It was only later when I put the pieces together and read about this phenomena in a book that I really understood. This is called culture shock. It's a well known phenomena for travelers, but I didn't know much about it. I had heard of it before, and I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to feel it when going into a foreign culture. What I didn't expect was to get hit with it coming out of a foreign culture. Basically, I wasn't reacting to the fact that I was in Brisbane, but I was reacting to the fact that I was not in Vietnam. I would probably have felt exactly the same in any western city.
For the first couple days, everything bugged me for no good reason at all. The traffic in Brisbane is very ordered and efficient. I can remember eating breakfast on the first day, and seeing a couple of kids jaywalk against a no-walk signal. They looked like they were smuggling heroin across the Turkish border. Just about nobody jaywalks, speeds or runs red lights as far as I could tell. The traffic also scared me to death, which after Vietnam was bizarre to say the least. Like most former British colonies, they drive on the wrong side of the road here. This means that cars keep appearing out of nowhere until you get used to it. We're so conditioned to expecting traffic from a certain direction that we don't even think about it. Cars coming from the wrong direction made me jumpy, but that wasn't the only thing about the traffic. It was very ordered and efficient, and I was crossing with the light so there was nothing to worry about, but it still worried me. I felt more exposed crossing a crosswalk, with the light, in a very orderly street than I felt crossing a busy street with moto-bikes whizzing by on both sides of me in Vietnam. This was bloody strange.
Stores were relatively easy to find, and it was no trouble at all finding a well stocked bike shop. If I got lost, I could simply ask someone for directions, in English. They had bookstores with English books. The city was spotlessly clean, and there are guys out every morning with pressure washers making sure the sidewalks are clean enough to eat off of. Everyone I met was very polite and friendly. The food was generally between mediocre and bland.
So, I hated the place with no good reason at all. It was very strange. It took me three or four days to get over the feeling, and a few more before I really developed a true appreciation for the place. Once I started meeting people, I started getting an appreciation for Australia. It's a bit tough to explain the whole process, because my Engineering mentality keeps wanting to just delete the last few paragraphs and jump to the bottom line, which is that I came to really like Australia a lot. Those feelings were completely irrational and nonsensical, but in the end I thought I needed to show the whole journey, not just the endpoints.
As it is now, I really like the place. I'm finding the average Australian to be very friendly and easy-going. The cycling here is fabulous, and all in all this is a great place that I highly recommend. It's quite a turnaround from the first few days.
In the airport, I went through Australian Customs which appears to be the most efficient Customs organization I've ever seen. In case you don't know, there is a major problem with Hoof and Mouth Disease in various parts of Europe. This is a disease that affects all cloven hoofed animals, which obviously includes cattle and sheep. Since a huge part of the Australian economy consists of these two animals, introducing a disease that would require killing a few hundred thousand of them doesn't seem like a good idea. Customs has set itself the task of keeping the disease off of the continent entirely.
The airport part of this means that they don't allow any soil of any kind to come into the country. They inspect all luggage that might have any soil, and if there is any soil they go with the traveler into a back room and clean up the offending items. The most common problems are with hiking boots and other footwear.
When we opened my bike up, I was completely embarrassed to see that it was downright filthy. I couldn't believe I put it in the box in that condition. I couldn't even believe I'd been riding it like that for weeks. The customs inspector didn't mind though, and we proceeded to take it into the wash room and clean it up a bit. I bought some degreaser a couple of days later and really cleaned it up, so now it looks all clean and shiny. I would say it looks like new, but for some odd reason it seems to have acquired a few scratches and nicks. Guess I'm getting sloppy in my old age.
I spent a couple of days walking around Brisbane before I started cycling, mostly because I was procrastinating on the bicycle assembly. It's not much of a job, and only takes about an hour, but it's tough to get started on it. Brisbane is a pretty big city, with a Central Business District (CBD) comprising the main shopping area. I spent most of my time in the CBD, since I was staying near there and the Internet Cafe I was using was there.
The Internet Cafes were a bit of a change from what I was used to. In Vietnam, Internet Cafes are notoriously slow and unreliable. I could easily live with the slow part, but the unreliable part drove me insane. It took me a week of trying before I got a connection that worked long enough to update my photo gallery through Bangkok, and four days to get a connection that would stay alive long enough to download the 6 MB of the PhotoShop Developer's Kit. The Cafes in Australia generally have a pretty good connection, and I used them while in Brisbane but I eventually just signed up for a local ISP so I could connect directly and get on with it. The most interesting part of the Internet Cafe I used in Brisbane, is that they have the most annoying music of any Internet Cafe I've used in five countries. That's really saying something too, because I've heard some bloody awful stuff.
Australian Internet Cafe's operators also keep much tighter controls on the machines. In Vietnam and Thailand, most Internet Cafes just install Windows and throw the workstation to the wolves. I routinely installed new software on the computer and plugged a LapLink cable between their computer and my laptop for file transfers with no problems at all. In Australia, the operators have all made a real effort to limit what the users can screw up on the machine. Most have removed or disabled the command processor, the run command, and nearly everything else that a careless, ignorant or hostile user could use to damage the machine. Naturally, this was nothing but a minor annoyance for me, and barely slowed me down in most cases. So far, only two sites have actually been successful at shutting me out of the machine.
The Brisbane CBD is the most handicapped friendly place I've ever seen. Nearly every intersection anywhere has wheelchair access, and all of them are properly done with no big drop-offs or steep curbs. Every stop light has both audible and tactile indicators for blind people. Whenever an intersection has a Walk signal, a little bird chirpy gizmo gives an audible indicator. They also have some kind of thumper that pounds on the pole, so the person can be sure it's that particular pole that's making the noise (as opposed to the pole 5 feet away going the other direction). As I traveled around Australia, I found the same system in most moderate to large cities.
I found a couple of reasonably good bike shops in Brisbane. None of them quite had all the stuff I wanted for my bike, but between three or four of them I got most of what I wanted set up. I even found one that had this really cool sticker. It exemplifies my philosophy of traveling so well, I felt compelled to put it on my bike, even though I generally hate stickers.
While in Brisbane, I met up with a friend that lives here and she took me to a game of Australian Rules Football. Here in Australia, there are four games which are called Football, and aficionados of each will loudly proclaim that their brand of football is the one true football, and all the others are mere shadows. There are two forms of Rugby, one with 13 players per side and another with 15 players per side. There's Australian Rules Football, which is similar to Rugby but has some substantial differences, and there's Soccer.
The game I attended was Australian Rules Football, which as the name implies is really only played in Australia. I watched the Brisbane Lions beat the Western Australia Dockers, in what was a closely contested game right up until about the middle of the last quarter when the Lions pulled decisively ahead. As a relatively uninformed spectator, I have to say I like this game much better than most spectator sports I've seen. The game is quite fast, and the scores can flip-flop very quickly. In the first quarter, the Dockers opened a huge can of whomp-ass on the Lions, and it looked like the home team was due for some serious embarrassment. During the short quarter break, the coach apparently had a Come-To-Jesus meeting with the players, because in the second quarter the Lions came back and took a huge lead. In the third quarter, the Dockers came back to a convincing lead again, and in the last quarter the Lions came back and won decisively. Of course, the more superstitious among us could just come to the conclusion that the southwest goal is magic somehow, because whichever team was taking shots at that goal during any particular quarter seemed to completely embarrass the other team.
You may wonder what about this game makes it more interesting and fun to watch than other sports, particularly for a non sports-buff like me. Well, it's your lucky day because I'll expand on that very topic. First off, the game isn't plagued with stops, starts, timeouts, huddles, beer commercial breaks, and various other brick-a-brack like American football. A quarter is 30 minutes, and the clock never stops. The timekeeper keeps track of how much time the game is delayed, and just adds that to the time to the end of the quarter. So a quarter may be 30 minutes, or it may be 40. The players, the fans and even the officials never know exactly when the quarter will end. When the timekeeper stands up and signals, that's the end. During this time, play simply continues at a fast pace. If a ball goes out of bounds, (which doesn't happen all that much), the official runs over, and throws the ball back into play within seconds. The biggest delay you can have is after one team scores a goal, and they go back to the center for a bounce-off. That takes less than 2 minutes. So these guys come out to get on with the game, and don't fool around. Players generally stay in for the duration of the game. There is a small bench, but any player can only be substituted in once, so once a player leaves the field, they're done for the day. Trainers are always running around on the field bringing water and towels to the players, and they just avoid the action.
The thing I especially like about the game is that fortunes can change very quickly. A team can score either six points or one point at a time, and it doesn't take a long drive down the field to score six points. At several times during the game, the team that was behind started feeling their oats and scored 20-30 points within a few minutes. When play is inspired, the scores can change very quickly. Nearly every game of American football I've ever seen has been effectively over by half time.
The other thing I like about it is that the game is fast. Trying to keep up with it is a lot like watching Hockey or Basketball. The ball moves around a lot, and fortunes are made, lost and remade in seconds. However, unlike Hockey or Basketball, the scores can flip around by big numbers very quickly.
The game isn't quite as rough as I'd been lead to believe. I originally thought it would be a very rough and tumble and brutal kind of game. However, from the stands it didn't seem to be much more rough than a tough game of Soccer, and it could be argued that it isn't even quite as rough as Rugby.
Another cool thing about the game is the halftime activities. They take the field and set up a whole bunch of small fields, and let a bunch of young kids come out and have short games of Footie on the smaller field. The kids range in age from five or six up to early teens, in what appear to be several age groups. They were very cute, and surprisingly skilled. Of course, some of the younger ones would play for a while, and then wander off to another game or sit down.
So if you're a sports fan, or even a sports agnostic like me I recommend you sit down and watch a game or two. They're shown fairly regularly on ESPN in the U.S., and the game's a lot of fun.
Lonely Planet had this to say about Australian food:
"Australian food used to have the reputation of being like British food... only worse. Now, they've improved..."
During the first week or so in Brisbane, I tended to think the first part of the sentence was right, and the second was overly optimistic. I tried eating at randomly selected restaurants as well as the restaurants Lonely Planet or the hotel manager suggested. The food was universally mediocre to bad. To calibrate that statement, I can say the best meal I had in the first week or so was at Sizzler :(
However, I persevered and once I started meeting the locals things got better. Margaret took me to the Footie game, and then introduced me to Dorothy. Dorothy has traveled extensively all over the world. She's been to Vietnam, Bali and even Montana. Margaret figured we could have a great time talking about our travels, which we did. Dorothy also took me to three restaurants in a row that were all quite good.
The first was a Thai restaurant. I'm no stranger to Thai food, since I ate it all the time at home. This restaurant was quite good, and I'd rate it up there with any good Thai restaurant in the U.S.
The next place was a local steak-house. I'd been whining about the generally low quality of the steaks I'd had here, but the steak here was quite good. The flavor of beef in Australia is a bit different from what it is in the U.S. It's tough to describe, but it's generally good. I suspect it's because of different diets or something like that.
Next we went to a restaurant overlooking the city where I got some great views of Brisbane. It turned out to be much bigger than I expected it to be. There I had kangaroo. It was pretty tasty. I don't think it would be my favorite, but it was pretty good. You can order kangaroo in two flavors. Kangaroo is a fully grown animal, and wallaby is a juvenile one. I tried both again in Alice Springs, and found the wallaby to be far better. (Note: Several Australians have written to correct me, so let me set the record straight. A wallaby is NOT the same thing as a kangaroo. It's an entirely different animal. The wallaby is similar to a kangaroo, but about half the size.)
The reason for Lonely Planet's assessment of improving cuisine is mostly the influx of Asian cooking styles. During the 80s and 90s, Australia took in a lot of Asians. A good percentage of the Boat People from Vietnam ended up here, and a lot of other Asians came here as well. As a percentage of population, Australia took in a lot more Asians during the last 20 or 30 years than the U.S. The Asians brought their cooking styles with them. In all of the major cities, you can find pockets of immigrants that cook just like they did in the old country. However, another thing started happening. The Asian cooking influenced traditional Australian cooking, and produced a mix that's uniquely Australian, and in many cases is really good.
A good case in point is the Black Dog Cafe in Hervey Bay (pronounced Harvey). If you're ever within 100 miles of Hervey Bay, go there just to eat at that restaurant. It's that good. I even stayed a day or two extra, primarily because I liked the restaurant that much. This is what they call a "Japanese Influenced Restaurant". They serve traditional Japanese food such as Sushi, but they also have a lot of dishes that are a cross between Australian and Japanese. For example, they have a steak dish that has lemon grass and bamboo shoots plus some other kind of weeds served with it, and a Japanese sauce. It was very tasty. I tried one of the specials every night, and loved every one of them.
The Black Dog also had Mango Cheesecake. Trust me on this one. If you can get hold of that somewhere in your life, jump at the chance because it's really really good. Cheesecake and nearly all cake-like desserts are generally served with a scoop of Vanilla ice cream, and a spot of whipped cream. This is a tradition that should be required at every restaurant in the world, since it's the obviously correct way to serve it. At the Black Dog they also had some syrupy sauce on the plate that went along quite nicely with that.
Another excellent restaurant in Townsville is the Naked Fish. I went in there one night, and they had a steak and seafood special that was so good I came back twice more and ate exactly the same thing. They also had something unique in my experience, which is fig and date pudding. It's about the same consistency as bread pudding, but it's made from figs, dates and who knows what else. Of course, it comes with ice cream and whipped cream, and it's exceedingly good.
In Alice Springs, the Red Ochre Grill had two wonderful dishes. The first is called Juki. This is a blend of 15 spices that comes in a separate little bowl about the size of a teacup. It comes with another bowel with olive oil, and a small loaf of bread. You break off a chunk of the bread, dip it in the oil, and then dip it in the Juki and eat it. This is definitely spot on, and highly recommended. I even got some to send home, but unfortunately you can't just buy it any time you like. The other dish I had was camel, which was excellent. It came with a mashed sweet-potato sort of sauce, and some sweet-potato chips.
Each of the resort towns I stopped at like Airlie Beach and Noosa Head had some kind of pretty good restaurant. Most aren't worth of the mention that the Black Dog got, but they were at least reasonably good. On the road, things haven't been quite as good. Most small town cafes have food that would need to improve a bit to get up to mediocre. In the Outback, the food is very spotty. The odd thing is that you can't really predict the quality of the food from the appearance of the restaurant. In the Outback, most food was bloody awful. I'd get a steak that would probably have been OK if it had been removed from the grille an hour sooner, and vegetables that would probably have been OK if they'd been cooked a day or two less. The veggies were generally cooked so much, if I closed my eyes and picked one of the four vegetables on the plate, I couldn't tell by the taste which one it was. This tended to make me pretty pessimistic, and then I'd come into a roadhouse that didn't look promising at all, and the food would be wonderful. It was genuinely bizarre to say the least. If I was in a mood where I just did not want to take a chance, I'd order something deep fried like fish and chips which is nearly impossible to mess up.
One point that I disagree with Lonely Planet on is the Australian Pie. Australians make a meat pie that's about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter and an inch thick. It's filled with various kinds of meat, and some kind of sauce and served hot. Lonely Planet hated them, and basically dared you to eat one if you had the nerve. I tried one and I like them a lot. In fact, on the road I've taken to having a pie and a liter of milk for lunch most days that I ride. The best pies can be had at places where they make them locally. Just look for a sign that says "Hot Pies", and you're quite likely to find one. If you can't find one of those, just about any service station that has a mini-mart will have pies. These are pre-packaged and not as good, but still pretty good and my favorite lunch break.
One thing I discovered here that I'm beginning to regret is Drumsticks. If you don't know what those are, I feel pity for you but I'll describe it anyway. It's basically a pre-packaged ice cream cone. They have a lot more varieties of them here than I remember seeing in the U.S., and the average quality seems much higher. My favorites are the Peters brand which is a division of Nestle. If you ever get here, try the "Gold" variety. This consists of a waffle cone, with a thin layer of chocolate down the inside of the cone, and the bottom inch is filled with chocolate so you finish the thing off with chocolate and cone. All of the different flavors have the same cone arrangement, and the ice cream changes. The Gold cone has vanilla ice cream, with Macadamia nuts on the top, and small pockets of lemon filling mixed into the vanilla throughout the whole cone. You should try this if you get a chance, although I warn you that statement is pretty much like recommending you try opium. You'll never get away from them once you try one.
They have just about the same drinks here that they have in the U.S., but I have one favorite. It's Kirks Lemon Squash. It's distributed by Coca Cola, but I've never seen it in the U.S. It's basically lemonade, but it's much better than any I remember buying back home. It's not as sweet and yucky. I've even given up making my home made Soda-Changs, since this is very good too and much easier to get.
Coffee here is pretty much like it is in the U.S. You can get good or bad, depending on where you are. In the Outback, "Coffee" means "Instant Coffee". Surprisingly enough though, I didn't find the instant that they served up to be too bad. I'd put sugar in it which I don't with proper coffee, but it was nowhere near as awful as one would think. In any city of any size, you can get a good cup of proper coffee at any cafe. You order a "Long Black" or a "Short Black". Both have the same amount of coffee, but the Long Black is in a bigger cup. A Short Black is not quite as strong as espresso, and a Long Black is about like a full sized mug of coffee that you would get at Starbucks. The one frustrating thing about coffee here is that it comes with milk by default. If you don't explicitly ask for it without milk, you'll get it a lot of the time.
Another thing worth mentioning that I didn't originally have in here is that the food I had in Sydney was as good as anywhere I've been. They have any kind of restaurant you can name, and everywhere I ate was very good.
The northeast coast of Queensland is a long stretch of some of the best beaches in the world, or at least the Queensland Tourist Association claims they are. There are two general areas. South of Brisbane is the Gold Coast. I didn't go there, since that was obviously going towards winter, which would be the wrong direction for a cyclist to go (or is it... wait and see). North of Brisbane you have the Sunshine Coast, and then the Fraser Coast. The big difference between these areas is the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef ends just north of Brisbane, and it serves as a humungous breakwater. This means that north of Brisbane, you don't have much surf, and below Brisbane you do. The Gold coast south of Brisbane is the place people go to surf, and that gives the towns a different character since they seem to be filled with surfers. North of Brisbane, you get lots of towns where people that just like the water but don't want to surf, or people that want to see the Great Barrier Reef.
The first day coming out of Brisbane, I rode the Bruce Highway, which is one of Australia's main roads. It goes nearly all the way around Australia. The particular stretch I was riding was a four lane road, with wide shoulders so the going was pretty good, until I got to places where they were doing construction. Then I had to merge into the regular traffic, and I didn't like that at all. If you can picture riding down the shoulder on 101, and having to merge into the right lane for a few miles, you get the idea. The drivers were courteous, but I didn't like riding there one bit. Once I got out of the city a ways, I consulted my trusty map, and decided to get off of the road. When I was going off the road, I noticed very large and prominent signs saying that bicycles weren't allowed on the motorway I was just coming off of. That seemed odd, since I'd chosen it based on a recommendation in a cycling book, but since I hated the road anyway, I decided to avoid it for awhile.
I headed East towards the coast, and stopped in the small town of Mooloolaba. This is the first of a whole string of resort towns scattered along what's called the Sunshine Coast. This particular stretch of coast is south of the Great Barrier Reef, so people coming here are just coming to chill out and enjoy the ocean. I stayed there one night, and then moved north using smaller back roads. The next day, I started a long series of comedies of errors concerning tires which proved somewhat amusing.
This whole episode took place over a couple of weeks. All of the incidents are nothing but sloppiness and bad planning, but amusing nonetheless (or perhaps amusing because of the source... you decide).
I had gone through a few tubes in Vietnam, and replaced them with Vietnamese tubes. In Brisbane, I changed out my front tire because it was worn out (front lasts about 2000 km, and back lasts about 4000). When I went to change it out, I found that the Vietnamese tire valve was defective, so I couldn't let the air out of the tube. I fooled with it a while, and finally just poked a hole in the tube and threw it away with the tire. I then tried to find a new tube for the tire in Brisbane, but was unable to do so. The reason I couldn't do so is because the bike came equipped with what are called Presto Valves. Bicycles come equipped with one of two types of valves. The most common is the Schrader Valve, which is the same as what is used on cars. The other is called the Presto Valve, which is some oddball French system apparently designed specifically to annoy me. My front tire is a 20 inch which is the same size as a BMX bike, but it had Presto Valves, which are not found on BMX bikes. I couldn't find a proper tube for it in Brisbane, so I decided to live on the edge for a day or two and find one on the road. I had a patch kit, so that didn't seem to be pushing the envelope all that much.
On the way north from Mooloolaba, the tire went flat. I took the tube out and tried to find the leak, and was unable to do so. I pumped it up, and rode for another mile and it went flat again. This time I was near a creek, so I could put it underwater and find the leak. It turned out to be a slow leak on the seam where the tube was put together. In Vietnam, tubes are made by taking a big long tube, chopping it up into sections, and gluing the ends together. This leak turned out to be in a place I couldn't patch.
I worked my way back to the last town I'd been through, stopping about every five minutes to pump it back up. Once I got there, I found that the shop didn't have the right tubes either, but they did have the right size tubes with a Schrader valve, and the owner had a round file in the back room. So, we just took the rim and filed it out until it fit a Schrader valve, put a new tube in it, and a spare in the saddlebag and I was good to go. One thing I found after we'd filed the hole out, was that my rim is very deep for some reason. I suspect it's to make it stronger or more aerodynamic, but the standard Schrader valve just barely pokes out the center. It has enough room to pump it up at a service station, but not enough room for my hand pump. No worries though. There was an auto parts store a few blocks away, so the shop owner loaned me a mountain bike to ride down there and buy a couple of extensions. Now that was a weird experience. I don't see how people ride those bikes all day long.
Now the story gets even funnier a couple of weeks later, but I'll get to that when I get to it.
Now that my tires were golden, I went ahead to the next town of Noosa Head. This is a resort town that was highly recommended in Lonely Planet, so I went there. It was a nice town, but not noticeably different than Mooloolaba. I stayed there for a couple of days to get some work done, and it was quite pleasant. It rained the day I was going to leave, so I just stayed another day because I'm a pansy-assed crybaby that didn't want to ride in the rain. It's not as if I had a schedule to keep since I didn't even know where I was going.
After Noosa Head, I stayed in several towns along the coast, and all were very similar. All of them are nice places to go and just chill out by the beach, and that's what they exist for. Lots of people from southern Australia come here to vacation in the winter, because it's bitterly cold down in the south, and nice and warm up here. It's a lot like the winter migration from the Northeast U.S. to the Florida region, except the direction and time of year are reversed. I'm here in the dead of winter, so they get a lot of people from the south. Queenslanders call people from the southern states "Mexicans". There are also a lot of foreigners that come here, because the Queensland Coast is a very popular tourist destination.
For the next week or so, I rode around on the back roads up the coast. The Bruce Highway is about 30-50 km (20-30 miles) inland from the coast, and I was avoiding that, as well as just enjoying the back roads. The country looked a lot like this photo, and it was generally a very pleasant ride.
The cycling was very nice and peaceful through that section, and this was the first place I really started to notice something that's held true for nearly all of my trip. I've been warned by several people that a lot of drivers hate cyclists because we don't pay taxes to use the roads (which is total crap, but some people believe it). Quite to the contrary, I've found the Australian drivers to be very courteous and bicycle friendly. They're just like the French I described way back at the start of this journey. I particularly like the truck and bus drivers. In just about every case, they give me as much room as they can safely give me, and if they need to slow down to pass me safely they do so, or they honk to let me know I needed to get off the road. The very rare exceptions to this rule are just the people you would expect: young boys in their teens and 20s, and rich people. All in all, I'd rate the Australians as very bicycle friendly, and a vast improvement over American drivers.
Australian drivers are not only bicycle safe, but lots of them seem to like cyclists as well. Ozzie drivers very frequently honk at me. Every country takes a while to figure out exactly what the honking rules are. In Australia, the honk in nearly every case is just a way to say Hello. It's almost always accompanied by a wave or a thumbs up, and the beeps are always short enough to indicate they're not a "problem" beep. Sometimes people are hanging out the window and waving as well. I've never had anyone honk or yell at me in anger except when I'm doing something stupid like driving on the wrong side of the road. In most such cases you could easily argue they're being safety conscious and not angry. The driving on the left side of the road thing is pretty easy until you start turning. It's quite easy for the reflexes to take over when you're going into a parking lot, or entering a roundabout or something like that. I'll also occasionally get a honk from a truck that's coming up behind me, but that always indicates that they don't think they can get around me safely with oncoming traffic or the shape of the road, and it's a sign I should get off the road. In every one of these cases, I should have seen it myself and already been off.
The funniest part of this particular part of the coast came a few days later. I was trying to use back roads as much as possible and work my way up the coast. I got to a place where I had to go back to an intersection with the Bruce Highway at the small town of Gympie. From there, I wanted to go to Maryborough. It was a quick 90 km up the Bruce Highway, but I was still avoiding it. There was an alternate route using back roads, and I decided to take it. However, I didn't quite have the nerve to take the whole shot from Gympie to Maryborough, because it was out in the middle of nowhere with no services, and a bit longer than I felt I could safely ride. So, I decided to visit Tin Can Bay on the way. This involved a bit of backtracking, but broke the ride up into two days. Tin Can Bay's claim to fame is that they have some wild dolphins that come in to be fed at the dock every morning, and tourists can buy some food and wander out in the water to feed them. The next day, I headed for Maryborough, which required the relatively simple task of riding about 30 km out of town and turning right. I was whipping along, looking for the road, and life was good until I started noticing signs for Gympie, with distance numbers that were way too small. I finally figured out I'd missed the turn by well over an hour, so I turned around and went back while looking very carefully for it. I got to a place where I'd clearly missed it again and started getting frustrated. I saw some highway workers I'd passed twice already, so I stopped to ask them. They told me that they were the sign crew, and they were out taking the signs down for replacement, and had taken it down about a half hour before I got there. I turned around and went back with their directions and found the place, and then proceeded to Maryborough. Now the funny part of this is that with all that backtracking, I ended up riding farther that day than I would have to just ride from Gympie to Maryborough.
Somewhere north of Maryborough, the Sunshine Coast changes to the Fraser Coast. This is named because of Fraser Island, which is the biggest attraction in the area. I went up to Hervey Bay (pronounced Harvey), and stayed there for a few days to work and see Fraser Island. Hervey Bay is located on the coast in a sheltered cove. It has lots of nice clean beaches, but they aren't used very much. Most people come here as a gateway to Fraser Island.
Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world. I went on a tour of the place, and found it quite interesting. By "Sand Island", they mean the entire island is made of sand. There are a couple of rocky outcroppings that hold the whole thing together, and the entire rest of the island is sand. Now the interesting thing is that even though the island is sand, it is completely covered in rain forest, which you wouldn't expect on a sand island. I got a good explanation of it on my tour, and I'll give you the very short version:
Now the cool thing about Fraser Island is that this whole process creates all kinds of natural phenomena that I've never seen anywhere else. For example, they have five different kinds of lakes. Most of them don't have any streams or rivers running into them. Some are just depressions that catch rainwater and it can't leak out through the sand any faster than it falls. Some are streams that are dammed up by sand blows. There are other types, but you get the idea.
The water on the island is very clean and pure. We went swimming in one of the lakes, and floated down one of the streams during the trip. Out in the lake, you could look through the water with very little distortion and see a long way underwater. It's the cleanest looking lake I've ever seen.
The island has lots of trees, and had a big logging industry going until the 60s. They also had a sand mining operation going until the early 80s. The island is now a nature preserve, so no industry of any kind goes on except for tourism. There are several kinds of trees there that don't really exist in big numbers anywhere else on earth. One kind of tree is nearly impervious to water. It's better in it's natural state than most trees are after being pressure treated or soaked in creosote. These trees were used to line the Suez Canal (longest canal in the world), as well as a lot of docks.
From an old loggers perspective, the interesting thing about the trees is that they grow very straight and tall, and have very few limbs. The nature of a rain-forest is that all life in the forest ends up competing for sunlight. Trees have to grow quickly up through the canopy, and then spread their limbs to get the light. This results in a very long, straight tree that would have been a logger's dream.
While I was there, I took a quick flight over the island which was fun mainly because we got to take off and land on the beach which I've never done. The only real problem is that except for having all of it's seats this plane is identical to the one I did my first skydive from, so I kept wanting to jump out :) Skydiving down to land on the beach would be so cool, don't you think?
Fraser Island was named after the captain of an 18th century ship that crashed on the reef. The captain and his wife eventually landed on the island, where the captain was ultimately killed by Aboriginals. His wife eventually got back to England, and made a heap of money going around telling the story of how the whole thing happened. When she started her second circuit, someone noticed that the story changed with every telling, so her credibility went down to nothing and nobody believed her anymore. She probably went into politics after that, since she was obviously ideally suited.
At any rate, the island and subsequently that whole section of the coast was named after him. Now the ironic thing about this is that this shipwreck was Captain Fraser's second wreck on the same reef. It just goes to show if you want to be famous, being a complete screw-up of an 18th century sea captain is a good way to go.
While I was around, a huge controversy erupted over the Dingos on Fraser Island. It was the hot topic in the news for weeks. Dingos are a type of dog that only exist in Australia. There are a bunch of Dingos on Fraser Island that are pure-bred. On the mainland, pure-bred Dingos are getting harder to find, because they breed with domestic dogs. The Dingos on the island are protected.
Now the trouble on the island comes from the fact that the Dingos don't have any natural predators on the island, and nothing to control the population except for the food supply. They normally eat rabbits and other such varmints, but those eventually become scarce. Eventually, a Dingo or two is going to decide that eating humans seems much easier, and with a lot of tourism they're not hard to find. There have been several maulings of children over the years, and it culminated in a Dingo killing a child a few weeks before I arrived. This turned into a huge controversy, over what to do about it. It ended up with the Prime Minister of the country being directly involved in decisions about whether or not to cull the Dingo population, and if so by how much. Hard line conservationists believe that the Dingos shouldn't be killed by people under any conditions. People at the other end of the spectrum advocate "culling" a whole bunch of them to get the numbers down to what the island can support. In the middle, are the officials trying to decide what to do.
In the end, they decided to "cull" a small number of Dingos, and the controversy about what to do with the rest of them was still broiling when I quit paying attention. I frankly can't see what the whole controversy is all about. It seems obvious to me that if you're going to mix wild animals and tourists, you have to have basic wildlife management. You can't have it both ways. You either have a completely natural environment where every animal can kill any other animal (including man), or you have a managed population. Once you decide you have a managed population, it's a matter of deciding how much to manage it. At any rate, the whole issue seemed way overblown to me. It would be like having the President of the U.S. deciding whether to shoot a couple of mountain lions in Yosemite. That decision would be made by the National Park Service, and in fact the U.S. National Park Service manages animal populations all the time with no-muss no-fuss.
The unfortunate thing about the whole incident is that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of tourists are dumb as dirt. One of the basic rules of outdoor travel is that you NEVER EVER FEED A WILD ANIMAL. Feeding an animal is a good way to kill it, or worse.
Now on Fraser Island, that's exactly what happens. Tourists not only prove that they don't know basic visiting rules for natural settings, but they also prove that they can't read since you can't get to the island without passing several clearly worded signs written in simple English that say not to feed the animals. The Dingos get fed anyway, and the attack was probably a Dingo that had been previously fed.
In the small town of Gin Gin, I pulled into a hotel and the operator asked if I had a mate with me (In Australia, a mate is a buddy or friend). It turned out he was asking because in the room next to mine he had another American computer geek cycling around Australia. This turned out to be Mike Vermeulen who lives in San Jose, about 10 km from where I used to live back when I had a home.
Mike works for Hewlett Packard as a Software Engineering Manager, making Unix System Software for HP
mainframes. He's taking a year off to cycle. His style of cycling is quite a bit different from mine, and much
more ambitious. I tend to ride for a few days or weeks, and then
goof off sightsee and work
for a few days. He on the other hand is going to cycle all the way around Australia. That's about
15,000 km (9,000 Miles). It's about the same distance as cycling all the way around the border of the
continental United States, or the same as doing Hanoi to Saigon and back 5 times.
His training seemed a bit more efficient than mine as well. I trained by sitting on my ass for a year, and then riding around Hanoi for a few weeks before the start of the ride. He trained by riding from California to Florida. He also rides one of those odd looking diamond frame bikes where you sit upright with your head over the handlebars. We had a good time talking about cycling, equipment, strategies, routes and the like. He also has a web page, which he updates using a different style than mine as well. For his page, he writes notes to his father every few days, who posts them to the web page. This is opposed to my doing squat-all for two months and then blasting out a giant page all at once. Mikes pages make a nice contrast in style from mine. His route paralleled mine for around 1,800 km or so. He gives a lot more detailed information on the route progress, and describes it in a completely different writing style. I quite enjoy reading his pages, and in fact used it to remind me of some stuff I forgot because of my sloppy note taking. It's nice to see a different perspective on the same roads I'm riding.
As I've been going around, I've met up with a fair number of people bicycle touring. I've also read a fair number of pages on the web about it, and find it a pretty interesting subject. There are nearly as many reasons for touring as there are people, and there are dozens of different touring styles. Frequently, people can't really tour together because of their different styles. For example, Mike and I were going the same direction at the same time so it would seem natural for us to ride together for a while, but everything from the time we start in the morning to the distances we travel to the number and location of rest stops is different. It's a pretty interesting subject to me, and I think I'll make a whole separate page on the subject later. As it was, I stopped in Airlie Beach for a few days, and Mike went on ahead of me. He sent me back road reports that were very helpful, and we still keep in touch every couple of weeks.
Running into Mike is one of the things that I'm finding I like most about touring. I'm out here to cycle and see places, but I'm really out here to meet and talk to people. Random chance has thrown me together with hundreds of people that are all worth talking to. I only document a tiny fraction of the people I talk to here, and then not in any real detail. When on tour, good things happen and I meet people... bad things happen and I meet different people. Either way, I win. I've met some wonderful people just because I happened to have some mechanical difficulties, made a wrong turn, run out of energy at just the right place and time, or just because I picked a particular restaurant or beauty shop.
Of course, believe it or not I never managed to drag my camera out while I was talking with Mike, so I didn't get a single photo of him :( I could pirate one from his web site, but that seems like cheating.
Now, about the time I met Mike, I'd been back on the Bruce Highway for a while. It turns out that you can only dodge back and forth on the back roads for a while, but you eventually have to ride on the Bruce. Once I finally got on the highway though, I found it to be pretty good cycling. The first two days outside of Brisbane were a bit rough and busy, but after that it was just a 2 lane road that's good cycling. Mike has been going the whole way on the Bruce, and I started riding it after that. I still bounced back and forth to the coast, but at least I was no longer afraid of the highway.
Not too long after meeting Mike, I completed my first century ever. For those unfamiliar with biking terminology, that's 100 miles (160 km) in a single day. My best previous day was 126 km (78 miles).
My first century was mostly a triumph of stubbornness and ego over good judgment and common sense. As in all such contests, either stubbornness or ego could whip both good judgment and common sense by themselves. Together, it's an unbeatable combination. I started out the day feeling kind of wimpy and weak, and the first four hours were spent cranking and whining. Part of this is because by random chance, I had chosen the most hilly segment of the ride that I've done so far. I had arbitrarily chosen a destination 160 km away, but also had a backup location at about 110 km just in case I wimped out.
When I got to the 120 km mark, I was feeling really tired, and a set of storm clouds started forming just ahead of me. To add insult to injury, I was also riding through an area that seemed to have a nice looking hotel about every ten feet, so to keep going I had to ignore my whining, the storm clouds and the nice looking hotels. However, I had the bit in my teeth by then, so I just persevered. I did in fact get rained on, but it doesn't seem to have done me any more harm than any previous rain did. I got to town right at dark which would have been a problem because my headlight wasn't working, but they had a bike path that saved my bacon. I got to the hotel, and pretty much collapsed. Then I spent the next day working and resting from the ordeal.
Of course once I'd done that, all it did is show me what a pansy assed crybaby I've been with my previous mileage targets. After resting one day I rode 400 Miles (650 km) in 4 days. This isn't an earth shattering record of any sort. I know a couple of guys that have ridden 200 miles in a single day, but it seems like a reasonably good speed for a middle aged computer geek carrying 50 pounds (22 kg) of stuff.
On one of those days, I had become completely obsessed with getting my 160 km in. Thus far on the trip, I'd run into lots of little towns, and little hotels stuck in between. Looking on the map, I'd noticed that there were lots of towns or at least places with lodging that didn't appear on my map. On this particular day, there was no marking for a town on the map at around 160 km, but a sign pointed to a place with a proper name that was at what appeared to be the proper distance so I just gave it a go without bothering to ask anyone. When I got to the place, it was getting close to dark, my headlight wasn't working, and the place turned out to be just a rest stop. I could have just crashed in my sleeping bag at the rest stop and eaten trail mix for dinner, but didn't really want to.
I'd been seeing signs for a farm stay for a few km. A farm stay is a working farm where the owners rent out a couple of the rooms in the house, and fix dinner and breakfast. It's usually the kids rooms after they grow up and leave, but some of them build up bunk houses and make it into a bed & breakfast business. At any rate, I'd been seeing signs for this one at a distance that I'd hit not too long before dark, and it was only a few km away so I went for it. When I got to the indicated place, it turned out that that distance was just to the place where you turn onto an unsealed road. A sign on that said it was 2 km to the next turn. I wasn't all that scared of 2 km on an unsealed road, so I proceeded on up the road. At the 2 km mark, it was nearly dark and the next sign said it was 12 km more. By then I was committed, and figured worst case I'd just park it under a tree or something so I kept going. Now one thing to watch out for in Australia at this time of year is that it gets dark fast. I knew that because I'd been paying attention. I continued on along, and the road kept getting worse and it kept getting darker. Fortunately, Connie had gave me a headlight for a present before I left. This is a little flashlight (or torch for you Aussies) that straps onto your head. It's a very cool thing, and I've gotten a lot of use out of it. In this case, I put it on my head and used it to sort of see the dirt track I was trying to follow.
Things continued along, and I had to ride through a few dry creeks in the dark which wasn't quite as much fun as you would think what with piles of sand on the other side that you can't see. I did eventually get to the farm stay, and you can bet the owners were surprised to see me. It turns out they had just sold the place, and business had pretty much died out after the Olympics anyway. I was going to be their last guest because they were moving the very next week. They fixed me a nice dinner and breakfast in the morning, and even did my laundry (ALL of my laundry makes about 1/2 a load). In the morning, I retraced the 14 km to the road and proceeded on about my business. The last 10 km in the dark wasn't all that much fun, but I did enjoy the stay there. If you're ever traveling around Australia, try to stay at one of these places at least once.
Before I left Brisbane, I had three people tell me I should go to Airlie Beach, and I had another two people tell me the same thing while I was en route. Lonely Planet liked it as well, so it seemed like a good place to go for a few days rest and to get caught up on work. The town did turn out to be a nice little town, although very touristy. There is absolutely no industry there except tourism.
I stopped there and worked for four days in a row. I was so exhausted, I had to take a two day sailing trip just to rest up. I have no idea how I ever managed to work five days in a row every week for years at a time, let alone six.
Airlie Beach has the distinction of having the nicest Internet Cafe I've been to anywhere in the world. They had a phone connection for my laptop which was required because the backpacker's place I was staying at didn't have a phone in the room, and their regular PC connections were lightning fast. The owner, Graham knows exactly what the appropriate background music is for an Internet Cafe. This is obviously NO music. After some of the cafes I've been in, that was pure luxury. This was very nice, since I spent hours there uploading the great overly long tome of a Vietnam page and all the photos.
Just off the northeastern coast of Queensland lies the Great Barrier Reef. This is the largest structure on earth created by living organisms. Note that the term living organisms includes Homo Sapiens. The reef is visible from the moon, and it's the only structure besides the Great Wall of China made by organic creatures that's visible from space. It stretches 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and it's up to 80 km wide (50 miles). It is formed from the shells of a small primitive marine animal called a Marine Polyp. These excrete lime to make a hard shell, and when they die the shells stay behind and the next generation lives on top of them. The shells of dead polyps are white, and the colorful displays of the reef are the live ones.
I took a two days sailing trip with a very nice bunch of people. I never actually managed to get everyone together in one picture, but here are about 2/3 of them at dinner after the trip.
The reef trip was a lot of fun. I finally learned how to snorkel on this trip. Now, I know all you water people are probably saying "It's just snorkeling, it's simple". You are correct that it ain't rocket science, but I've always had trouble with it. As soon as my head gets underwater, I completely panic, and my breathing goes wacko (actually, my breathing is fine... it's my brain that's having trouble). I had even more trouble the one time I tried SCUBA in Hawaii.
I decided to give it a go again this time, but wasn't doing any better than before. The skipper of the boat had a little rubber raft out in the snorkeling area, and so I headed for that. Once I got to that, I ditched my fins, put the snorkel on, and just held onto the boat with my head out of the water until my breathing came back to normal. Then I stuck my head underwater, but held onto the boat for a while until I got to where I could do that without vapor-locking, and she paddled me around for a few minutes. After a while, I let go of the raft and I was snorkeling just like a big boy.
Once I got to where I could actually see the coral, it's quite a site. If you remember my page back on Nha Trang in Vietnam, I commented on how beautiful a display of living corral they had was. Well, that's nothing compared to the real thing. The reef is populated with dozens or hundreds of different species of animals, all of which look very different from each other. They comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and the Great Barrier Reef has tons of it everywhere you look. I don't have an underwater camera, so I didn't get any photos, but it was well worth seeing. I would say it's the best snorkeling I've ever done anywhere in the world. Of course, since it's the first successful snorkeling I've done anywhere in the world I'm not sure how much that particular assessment is worth. It was very nice snorkeling, and I kind of regretted that I don't know how to do SCUBA. I may try learning SCUBA one day, although it is fairly dangerous (7 1/2 times as dangerous as cycling, 1/4 as dangerous as motorcycling).
One Scottish bloke named Stewart is a cyclist, so we naturally spent a bunch of time talking about cycling and the like. He wanted to try out my bike, and it happened that he's exactly my same height so he could give it a shot without needing any adjustments whatsoever. Here he is toodling around Airlie Beach after the standard Recumbent Riding Training Course which takes about 30 seconds plus a trainer running along beside you for about 20 meters or until he gets tired of it.
Stewart liked it enough that he wrote me a few weeks later saying he managed to obtain a recumbent for next to nothing. He may well be my first true recumbent convert :) This is good, because you can't be a proper Recumbent Evangelist without at least one convert. It's also the first time I've gotten a good look at how funny the bike looks like going down the road. Of course, I look much more studly than Stewart does, but still it gives me a basis for comparison.
Stewart also came up with an alternate and amusing interpretation for the name Wademan. I always like to think of it as a superhero name, like Spiderman. Stewart immediately jumped to the alternate explanation that it's more like Neanderthal Man. He even came up with definitive proof of what ultimately happened to Wademan ->
Airlie Beach was a nice town and I enjoyed it, but don't quite know what all the fuss is about. Part of what younger people seem to like about it is that it has lots of night life, but since I'm not all that much of a partier that doesn't do much for me. I quite liked the place, but there were lots of other places on the Queensland coast that were just as good.
I really liked the sailing trip. If I were going to do it again, I'd probably take the time to learn SCUBA first, and then take a three day trip instead of two. Two days is enough for just snorkeling, but with three days we could have gotten out to the outer reef, where the coral displays are different from the inner reef that I did manage to see.
You can also go out and stay overnight on any of the thousands of islands that pop up all over the place. This would be a good thing to do if you're into camping. If you're a water person, I think you'll really like the Great Barrier Reef area. You can pick any tourist town at random from Mackey to Cairns, grab a tour and give it a go.
Back in Brisbane, I had a flat on my back tire. I was being lazy, so I just replaced the tube and threw it away because I saw I had a spare in my pannier bag that I'd picked up along the way, making two spares. I was looking for another spare tube as I went, but not with any particular urgency since I had one.
I was cruising along on a day when I set a distance that was really pushing my luck. I rode the first part of the ride, but wanted to hit a place that was just barely workable before dark, just because I wanted to get more miles down. When I left a gas station after eating lunch, I noticed the squirrellyness that indicates a flat, and sure as can be, my back tire was flat. I was pushing my luck with daylight, so I decided to just dig the spare out of the pannier and put it on. Guess what... the spare was actually a second spare for the front tire! This meant that I once again didn't have a spare that I needed. It also meant while I was fighting with my front tire in my previous follies I had a brand new spare sitting in the pannier bag the whole time.
Of course, I figured this was a no dramas situation, because I still had my patch kit which I wasn't using just because I was being lazy. I dug the patch kit out, patched the leak, and proceeded on down the road. After a few miles, I noticed it was flat again. This was beginning to annoy me, because I was out in the middle of nowhere. I had a sleeping bag, but wasn't carrying any food. I popped the tube and found the patch was defective, so I replaced it and tried again. The second patch didn't hold either, and then I was getting seriously annoyed.
I nursed it along for a while to see what showed up, and eventually came to a little caravan park in the tiny little town of Gumlu. I went in there, and asked if they had any cabins or such. It turned out that they didn't, but a guy named Mark had come out and started chatting with me about the Strange Machine, and he offered to let me use his tent because he wasn't using it anyway. This could count as the first time I've gotten lodging because of the recumbent, but this gang was very friendly and I think he would have offered it even if I was riding an ordinary push-bike (as the Ozzies call them). The caravan park had a restaurant where I got dinner, and sat down and talked to a bunch of the locals.
It turns out the caravan park is a place for farm workers to live while they work in the fields. The guys I was hanging out with were pickers. They grow tons of different vegetables around there, but none of it is visible from the road. All I ever saw was sugarcane, but Mark pointed out at least a dozen crops that he works with. A lot of the pickers are apparently backpackers that use the temporary seasonal work as a way to pay for their trips. If you're traveling on a shoestring, you may want to look into that as a way to finance the whole thing. Mark had a friend that's just learned to do a fire-baton dance trick which is pretty cool. I took some photos of it, and generally had a good time. They were a really nice bunch of people, and everything worked out for the best. If I hadn't had the tube follies, I would have completely missed out on meeting them. Maybe I should work on being totally incompetent more often.
In the morning, I patched the tire for the fourth time and limped it into the next town of Ayer. That experience was kind of funny, because I was cruising through this brand new town and heard "Hey Wade" from the sidewalk. This doesn't ordinarily happen in a new town, as my fame isn't all that widespread. It turned out to be a woman I'd talked to for about an hour the night before, that once rode a bicycle through a large part of Thailand. I stopped to chat with her and her kids for a while, and then another guy came up to ask about the Strange Machine. I talked to him for a while, and he turned out to be from Canada. He and another Canadian got some old mountain bikes, made some homemade trailers for them and were heading down the coast. They spent next to nothing on their bikes, and they were planning to camp as they went along, so their costs were very low. They took me to a guy that cooked pancakes in the middle of the park using an Outback Smoker. I sat down for some coffee and some very good pancakes, which cost a whopping 2 AUD (1 USD) for the lot.
After that, I went to the bike shop and found the same problem I'd run into on the front tire. My back tire is 26 inch which is a standard mountain bike size, but the Presto valve is not very common on mountain bikes. This time, I just skipped right to the bottom line and had the bike shop drill the rim out for a proper Schrader valve. They told me that this part of Queensland had these nasty little thorns all over the place, and everyone locally runs thorn resistant tubes which are about 1/4 inch (10 mm) thick on the bottom. I got a couple of those installed, and haven't had any trouble since.
Most of my reading time in Oz has been doing Net research or reading guidebooks for Russia, China and Mongolia. However, I have one book worth talking about:
Not About The Bike
This is Lance Armstrong's autobiographical look at his life before, during and after his famous bout with Testicular Cancer, and his subsequent recovery and back to back wins in the Tour De France. This is a most excellent book, and I highly recommend it.
Lance has a real style for description, and he uses it to give a good idea of how it feels in everything from having chemo drugs eat away at you from the inside, to sliding on the yellow leader's jersey in the Tour. He also does quite a good job of describing his process of maturing from a brash and unstable young man to an adult and smart touring racer.
The other thing is he does a good job of explaining how much of a team sport bicycle racing is, and giving his teammates in the tour their proper due. One person gets to be the "winner", but nobody could win it without a strong team of members that are basically willing to sacrifice themselves to get someone in the winner's circle.
I'm giving this one a thumbs up.
Next - The Outback